What is Policy as Code? The Best Way to Streamline Kubernetes Environments

Last updated
April 18, 2024
Cortney Nickerson
Developer Advocate

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The Role of Policy as Code in Streamlining Kubernetes Environments

In the vast landscape of Kubernetes deployment and management, a core principle that stands out for maintaining systematic and effective control is Policy as Code (PaC). This approach has emerged as a cornerstone of modern infrastructure management, particularly in environments such as Kubernetes that often consist of multiple clusters with a need for consistent policies.

What is Policy as Code?

Policy as Code is a practice where policies that govern various aspects of a system or infrastructure are defined and managed in a code-like format. This practice is similar to the broader concept of "Infrastructure as Code," but specifically focuses on policies. These policies may encompass security practices, compliance rules, access controls, resource allocation, and many other aspects. Policy as Code allows organizations to automate the enforcement and monitoring of these policies in their environments.

Policy as Code can be defined by 8 key components:

1. Codification of Policies

Rather than maintaining policy documents or manual checklists, Policy as Code involves writing policies in a machine-readable format. This can be through domain-specific languages like HashiCorp Configuration Language (HCL) or general-purpose policy languages like Rego used in Open Policy Agent (OPA).

2. Version Control

As policies are defined in code, they can be version-controlled using systems like Git. This provides a history of policy changes, allowing teams to track what changed, who changed it, and why it was changed.

3. Automated Enforcement

Policy as Code enables automated enforcement of policies. For example, in a cloud environment, policies could automatically ensure that all storage buckets are not publicly accessible, or in a Kubernetes cluster, they could ensure that containers do not run with root privileges.

4. Continuous Compliance

By continually enforcing policies through automation, organizations can ensure that their systems remain compliant with internal or external standards. This is especially valuable in regulated industries.

5. Integration into CI/CD Pipelines

Policy as Code can be integrated into Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) pipelines. This means that policies are automatically checked and enforced as code moves from development through to production.

6. Feedback Loops

When a policy violation is detected, automated systems can provide feedback to developers and operators. This immediate feedback is invaluable for catching and correcting issues early in the development process.

7. Scalability

As organizations grow, manually enforcing policies becomes increasingly impractical. Policy as Code scales with the infrastructure, ensuring policies are consistently applied regardless of the size or complexity of the environment.

8. Documentation and Communication

Having policies as code provides a precise and unambiguous way of documenting what is allowed and what is not. This can also facilitate communication and understanding between different teams (e.g., security, development, operations).

By treating policy in the same way as source code, organizations can ensure more robust, secure, and compliant systems.

Version Control and Automated Testing

Version control and automated testing are like the twin pillars that uphold the sanctity of Policy as Code. Version control ensures a well-documented and collaborative approach to policy evolution, while automated testing ensures that policies are robust, reliable, and effective. Together, they are invaluable companions in the professional world, ensuring that Policy as Code is not just a concept, but a dependable and evolving practice.

Below are some examples of how the pair work together:

Tracking Changes: With version control, every modification in policy code is tracked. Imagine this as having a detailed logbook where you can flip back the pages to see the entire history of your policies’ evolution.
Collaboration: Teamwork is crucial in any professional environment. Version control systems allow multiple guardians of policy (yes, your fellow team members!) to collaborate efficiently. The team can work together to refine policies, even if they are continents apart.
Security and Accountability: A breach in policy can be a serious issue. Version control offers accountability by recording who made changes. If a mistake is made, don't worry! With version control, it's like having a time-travel spell to revert back to a previous state.

Tagging and Release Management: Version control lets you mark certain points in history as being particularly important - akin to putting a bookmark on an eventful day in a diary. These tags or releases help in managing versions of policy code that are deployed to production.

Automated Testing: The Sentinels of Policy Integrity

Automated testing is the sentinel that vigilantly keeps an eye on the policies, ensuring they always uphold the standards and values they are meant to enforce.

Quality Assurance: Automated testing is like having a virtual inspector who tirelessly checks the policies to make sure they are in their best shape. This ensures that policies do what they are supposed to do and nothing falls through the cracks.

Saving Time: Remember the old saying, "Time is gold"? Automated testing saves valuable time by rapidly checking policies. This frees up the human guardians to focus on more critical and creative tasks.

Continuous Integration: Imagine a magical cauldron that continuously combines different ingredients (codes) to create a potent brew (software). Automated testing ensures that when new policies (or changes to existing ones) are added to the mix, they blend perfectly without spoiling the potion.

Immediate Feedback: If something doesn’t meet the standards, automated testing promptly raises a flag. This is like having a friendly advisor who quickly nudges you if something is amiss so you can take corrective action right away.

The Application of Open Policy Agent in Policy as Code

In the context of Policy as Code, the Open Policy Agent (OPA) plays a pivotal role. As an open-source, general-purpose policy engine, it integrates seamlessly into the Kubernetes environment, enforcing policies throughout the application lifecycle. This can range from access controls and data protection to resource usage, thereby strengthening security and compliance across the board.

Collaboration and Transparency

Policy as Code encourages collaboration among team members by promoting visibility and shared understanding of policies. Since policies are defined as code, they can be reviewed and improved collaboratively, fostering a culture of shared responsibility and continuous improvement.

The adoption of Policy as Code, aided by tools like Open Policy Agent, can significantly enhance the efficiency, security, and consistency of Kubernetes deployments. By treating policy enforcement with the same diligence as application code, organizations can avoid common pitfalls, mitigate risks, and drive high-quality deployments in their Kubernetes environments.

About Monokle

Monokle helps you achieve high-quality Kubernetes deployments throughout the entire application lifecycle—from code to cluster. It enables your team to define Kubernetes configuration policies to ensure consistent, secure, and compliant application deployments every time. In addition to policy enforcement, Monokle’s ecosystem of tools make your team’s daily YAML configuration workflows easier. Get started with Monokle for free.